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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir / religion

The Kingdom

Emmanuel Carrère

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Kingdom

Title: The Kingdom
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 384 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Kingdom - US
The Kingdom - UK
The Kingdom - Canada
Le Royaume - Canada
Le Royaume - France
Das Reich Gottes - Deutschland
Il Regno - Italia
El Reino - España
  • French title: Le Royaume
  • Translated by John Lambert

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Our Assessment:

B : solid mix of the personal and religious/historical

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 24/2/2017 Tim Whitmarsh
Harper's . 3/2017 Christopher Beha
Irish Times A 18/3/2017 Eileen Battersby
The NY Rev. of Books . 20/4/2017 G.W.Bowersock
The New Yorker . 10-17/7/2017 James Wood
The Spectator . 18/3/2017 A.N.Wilson
The Times . 18/2/2017 Catherine Nixey
TLS . 21/4/2017 Adam Kirsch

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is a brilliant, shocking book. (...) The real scandal of this book is its relentless narcissism. Only someone with Carrère’s mountain-sized ego could reinvent the story of the early church as a parable for his own life (and, perhaps, vice versa). Luckily for the reader prepared to grapple with this complex, intellectual but compelling book, he is also witty, painfully self-critical and humane. The Kingdom is not without its problems, but it is a work of great literature (.....) It is the work of a post-Christian. Most of all, however, it is a genre-bending book of great flair: a tribute, and indeed a monument, to the power of literary invention." - Tim Whitmarsh, The Guardian

  • "One of Carrère’s most endearing qualities as a writer is his utter lack of irony, and I take him here at his word. An enormous amount of thought and research has obviously gone into The Kingdom, and it often does an impressive job of vividly recapturing the early Christian world." - Christopher Beha, Harper's

  • "Suspend every thought you may or may not have had about the New Testament. Carrère’s latest investigative extravaganza is a lively, cunning, self-regarding frolic executed with subversive panache. It may well exasperate and possibly offend -- odds on the author will be most disappointed if it doesn’t. Equally certainly, however, The Kingdom will direct readers back to the New Testament far faster than the most earnest theologian could imagine." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "The book is long and sprawling. Reading it is rather like listening to a cultivated but supremely self-absorbed acquaintance who cannot stop talking about himself. The translator, John Lambert, catches this tone perfectly. (...) The strictly autobiographical parts of The Kingdom, without reference to Carrère’s religious convictions or to Luke and Paul, are ultimately the least successful and rarely cohere with the work as a whole." - G.W. Bowersock, The New York Review of Books

  • "(T)the tension between first- and third-person narration is better resolved than in his earlier work. (...) What makes The Kingdom so engrossing is this element of personal struggle, our sense that the agnostic author is looking over his shoulder at the armies of faith, as they pursue him to the wall of rationality." - James Wood, The New Yorker

  • "This is an odd one, not least because it claims to be a novel, which it isn’t. (...) The Kingdom is a chatty, bookish book. (...) Don’t expect consistency from our friend." - A.N.Wilson, The Spectator

  • "The question for readers is what The Kingdom brings to the subject that a more conventional work of scholarship cannot. (...) (H)e does have a real talent for understanding and evoking religious feeling. Readers who are unlikely to pick up a book by Renan, or a copy of the New Testament, will find The Kingdom an accessible and moving introduction to the Christian story." - Adam Kirsch, Times Literary Suppelement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Kingdom is a personal book, with Emmanuel Carrère front and center for much of it. He is a reader drawn to first-person narrators -- and a writer drawn to expounding on himself and his own experiences, and it's an approach he has taken in many of his recent books, combining extraneous events with the personal, and the personal experience of writing about them. Here, it is nothing less than early Christianity itself he tackles.
       Carrère writes of being raised: "in a milieu where it went without saying that you weren't" a believer, but the casual omnipresence of a religious upbringing was inescapable (and obviously not without some lasting effect): he went to Sunday school, he took communion. Easily drifting away from the religious, he obviously never quite got it out of his system: At some point in middle age, in 1990, he finds himself: "touched by grace" and becomes devout, getting married in church, getting his kids baptized, and going to Mass regularly ("and by regularly I don't mean every week but every day"). He also takes up studying the Bible, filling notebooks of close reading of the Gospel of John.
       The religious phase lasted three years, until he snapped out of it again and came to his senses. Some two decades later he returned to the notebooks, and to his three-year crisis, reëxamining both -- leading to this work.
       The first section of The Kingdom considers 'A Crisis: 1990-1993', while the remaining ones are a semi-historical take on the early days of Christianity, ca. 50 to 90 AD, as Carrère works himself through these stories -- specifically of Paul and Luke. His take isn't a purely historical one, though he does study and follow what records there are; he's: "corroborated what can be corroborated" -- but events are, of course, open to interpretation, and there are points when he has to fill in the gaps. So, for example, about the two years Paul spent in Caesarea, he finds there: "Not a single source, I'm free -- and forced -- to invent".
       Carrère isn't so much interested in the origin-story, the Christ-myth of the resurrection, that: "naïve, bizarre belief that should normally have withered and died" but instead spread and was embraced and believed by a significant part of the human population for now thousands of years, the foundations of a soon dominant force that remains powerful to this day. Christ figures in Carrère's work, but as a secondary figure: among the things that are of particular interest to Carrère is the question of authenticity and repetition, of how stories spread and establish themselves (and don't), and obviously the Christ-stories did so impressively well.
       A focal point for Carrère is Paul, who spread the word -- even as he was accused by many of Christ's earlier followers of not spreading the right word. Carrère likes to see Paul as a Trotsky to that time's Stalinists -- the difference being that Paul -- or his story -- emerged victorious.
       Much of what Carrère relates is familiar -- it's the tone, rather than the spin, that probably separates it from most other such accounts -- but the focus, on how the 'the kingdom of God' came to be established, is a particularly interesting one. Even as Carrère does historically situate his characters as they move along, the account remains personality-focused -- allowing for freer interpretation, too. Sticking to what record there is, one might wish Carrère had moved further towards fiction -- but with a near-omnipresent author who describes much of his thought-processes along the way, one at least gets a good personal picture.
       Well into the book, Carrère notes that he's never made it all the way through Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian -- but he is fascinated by the notebooks she published as an annex to the novel:

Good modern that I am, I prefer the sketch to the grand tableau
       Yet his ambitions for this book are to make it: "one of those sweeping, finely balanced architectural compositions". It remains a somewhat uneasy mix, of grand story, yet with an underlying running commentary on its construction.
       Carrère offers enough far-ranging titbits -- from Philip K. Dick-related matter to various influential people, such as his godmother, to his part in the Bayard Bible-translation -- and interesting observations on his subject-matter to make for a reasonably interesting account.
       Perhaps not letting readers close enough to his own wrestling with faith, The Kingdom is a solid look at early Christianity, quite engagingly presented.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 March 2017

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The Kingdom: Reviews: Other books by Emmanuel Carrere under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books dealing with Religion
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Emmanuel Carrère was born in 1957. He has written numerous books, which have been widely translated.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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